Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 560.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Tue, 02 Apr 2002 08:50:01 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: continuing consequences of Babel
In Humanist 15.558 Domenico Fiormonte rightly laments our monolingualism:
>It is not very often that we read on Humanist about books published in
>languages other than English. I have found this situation sometimes
>frustrating, sometimes irritating, but more often just very sad (and this
>is not the first time I am writing about it), as I think that linguistic
>and cultural diversity are a key factor to the successful development of
>But publications are not the only problem. An incredible amount of work,
>both practical and theoretical (of which the above mentioned publications
>are one of the less evident results) has been done in Continental Europe in
>the last ten years. ....
>But it is hard to find any trace of this debate in some conferences
>officially dedicated to the subject. I dont know why this is happening.
>Lack of linguistic competence? cultural shock? Who knows.
Checking with friends in various disciplines I find the same situation --
people read, sometimes talk and write in the languages they know. Some of
these, German and French in particular, tend more often to be an native
English speaker's second tongue, and English tends to be the preferred
second tongue for most everyone else. English increasingly predominates; it
is the one language now that in our parts of the world and in the
communities in which we circulate allows the greatest number of people to
communicate with each other. (Remember, it was once French -- were there
such complaints then, directed at native French speakers? -- before that,
Latin, which had the advantage of being no one's native tongue, and so
giving no one of the educated a particular advantage.)
In any case, what Domenico sees is both no surprise and the cause of many
difficulties for us -- especially the isolation from important work, as he
notes. In my mind the question is, what do we do about it? All well and
good to say we should take a year or two to learn one or two additional
languages (which we should), but few of us will, and meanwhile the problem
continues. Involving other languages in our conferences is impractical for
other reasons. What do we do about this serious problem?
Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
+44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
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